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U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence recognizes its centennial

By Tish Williamson, director of communications | U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence | May 15, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

The U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE, trains the world’s premier military medical force: Army Medicine. There are many important dates in the school’s history, but May 15, 1920, is acknowledged as the date the Army formally approved the establishment of the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, where MEDCoE traces its origins.

From the start, what is now known as Army Medicine has been a vital aspect of the Army’s success – America’s oldest fighting force established by the First Continental Congress on June 14, 1775.

In 1893, the Army Medical School was established to provide medical professionals post-graduate education in bacteriology, radiology, and preventive medicine. The Medical Field Service School was established to further train these professionals in the skills they would need to be effective medical leaders in the field. This more formalized field training came at a time when Army Medicine was evaluating lessons learned from World War I and the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Lewis Barger, the MEDCoE Historian said the field school was established when the entire Army was re-evaluating its approach to training, education, and the professionalization of all of the Army's branches.

“Army Medicine was unique,” Barger explained. “It continued to operate the Army Medical School, providing post-graduate training in military and preventive medicine, while it was opening the medical field service school, illustrating the dual requirements for the medical officer to be skilled both as a physician and as a leader.”

The Surgeon General of the Army at the time, Maj. Gen. Merritte Ireland, made a formal request to the Department of the Army to establish the field school. His request was officially approved by the Department of the Army on May 15, 1920. On June 30, 1920, the Bureau of the Interior turned Carlisle Barracks over to the War Department. On Sept. 1, 1920, cadre began to arrive, students arrived May 1921 and the school’s first formal course started June 1, 1921.

The location at Carlisle Barracks, which had housed General Hospital No. 31 until it closed in October 1920, allowed for training in various environments and served as a testing area for interwar field units.

From its beginning, the school worked to enhance the readiness of the medical force by training personnel to preserve the health of the Army in the field and in garrison. Their motto became: “To Conserve Fighting Strength.” This foundation continues in Texas as the school was moved to Fort Sam Houston in 1946.

“In the 100 years since its inception, the MEDCoE has established itself as the Army’s center of gravity for medical education and training, medical capability development and medical doctrine development and integration,” said Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, MEDCoE commander.

For the last few years, MEDCoE had the monumental task of transforming the way Army Medicine trains in accordance with the Army’s modernization strategy. That mission continues while navigating the challenges associated with a global pandemic.

“Through several wars, times of National crisis and world-wide humanitarian efforts, our mission of training the world’s premier military medical force remains unchanged,” said MEDCoE Command Sgt. Maj. Clark Charpentier.

Visit www.medcoe.army.mil for future MEDCoE 2020 events.